The slightly unsure look in his eyes told you he still wasn’t comfortable with the task at hand. But at this point in time that didn’t matter, he was part of a team and that team’s leader was counting on him. Counting on him and watching intently from nearby.
The long time rookie’s past flashed before his eyes as he recalled the early years of being his leader’s lone sidekick, to the more recent years filled with mentoring the next one. He was a rookie no longer and now being counted upon to set an example for the kid who was. A kid who would soon be nipping at his heels, fighting for the number 2 spot.
Presently, training was entering its third week, and if day 1 was any indication, probably the last.
Standing on shaking legs, on top of a platform in the middle of a massive training pool, the first day of this challenge found him scared and nearly beaten by the mission before him. Why was it that nobody could tell him for certain what exactly was going on in the waters beneath him? Did it end? Does anything live down there? Why do we want to go under it again?
Wracked with fear, he signaled for a break.
He took comfort on the sidelines as he watched other trainees at the center practice the challenges set before them. Many passed with ease and went on to mastering repetition, while others battled through various levels of struggle and produced various ways of coping with those struggles.
But as a whole, everyone was still in the game. Everyone except for him.
The initial shock was over and he was up for the challenge. Standing steady, back on the platform and scene of his earlier distress, he mastered the first task with ease – underwater survival. Head down and eyes closed, mouth shut and nose plugged, he was operating underwater and not intimidated at all.
Floating exercises and short diving drills were mixed into the equation over the coming weeks, and each one he took on with energy and excitement. He even realized at one point that he was actually having fun. The memory of his mentor telling him that he eventually would have fun suddenly crossed his mind, but he erased that thought just as quick. That’s one secret he would keep to himself as his older partner surely didn’t need the ego boost.
Towards the end of week 2 and beginning of week 3 the biggest challenge arrived.
Dive off the platform, head down and arms forward, driving with all of your strength towards the far wall. No support from the trainer, no trust coming from what you can see with your eyes, just blind faith in yourself and your training to guide your hands to the wall as fears of being sucked into a bottomless abyss, never again to see the light of day, challenged that faith.
His head came up from underwater, sheets of it pouring from his face and air rushing into his lungs.
The slightly unsure look he had in his eyes was actually from excitement. Excitement one gets from pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and into one of fear. One of fear, excitement and most importantly pride. Maybe he doesn’t realize it yet, but some part of him was learning that when you stick something out, put in the work and come away with success, the result is pride.
Pride that will build his confidence in completing this training, contributing to the team that depends upon him, and everything beyond.
The veteran of many adventures patted him on the shoulder as he exited the pool and put his arm around him.
“You’re doing great at swim lessons buddy. Watching you makes me so happy and proud. Now someday you can teach your little brother how to swim. Did you have fun today?”
“Yes Daddy. Can we get a pool?”
This article originally appeared on Chelmsford Patch on 7/21/12.